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Know the risks, stay safe in the sun


Are you ready to soak up the sun? Most of us here in the Pacific Northwest are excitedly waiting for the sun to shine. But when it comes to the risk of UV rays, are you staying safe?

We all know we need to wear our sunscreen and limit our sun exposure time, but do you really know what’s in that bottle of sunscreen? A long list of chemicals can be hiding in that tube of sunscreen. It’s hard to know what’s safe and what’s harmful. With a few preventative measures we can avoid sunscreen all together, and when we need it I have listed some safe sunscreen selection tips as well.

Ways to lessen your sun exposure

Avoid high UV times: The sun is at it’s peak from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is when the UV rays are the strongest. When possible, plan your actives in the early morning or late afternoon.

Cover Up: In addition to a hat or visor, make sure your clothing is protecting you. Unless you will be in the peak of the sun everyday you do not need to invest in expensive UV protective clothing. Simply hold your garment up to a light bulb and if the light is not passing through you are good to go.

Protect the eyes: Don’t forget your shades. Not only will squinting from the bright sun cause wrinkles, but it’s not good for the eyes. Make sure you wear sunglasses as often as possible. Get a polarized pair to help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

n Stay in the shade: If you can plan your sun exposure with frequent shade breaks, your skin will thank you. Bring a large umbrella to the beach or find a nice tree to sit under for a break on a sunny hike.

When you know your exposure time will be longer or you are heading on a sunny vacation, sunscreen is the way to go. To be safe, when selecting a bottle use these tips. Many natural or organic sunscreens can be a bit higher priced but when it comes to the long-term protection of your skin, it’s worth the cost.

Choosing a safe sunscreen

Know what you need: If you will be out in the sun for limited time, you may not need much coverage at all. If you will be at the beach all day you will need to reapply regularly and get a higher SPF. Most sunscreens don’t add much value over 50 SPF so reapply more often rather than using stronger dosage.

Avoid harmful ingredients: Some common ingredients in sunscreen that you should avoid are oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals are allergens and hormone disruptors. Retinyl should also be avoided as it can increase the rate of tumor growth according to a 2009 study.

Avoid the spray: These versions are a very handy way to get sunscreen on a squirmy toddler but they are not safe. When sprayed, the ingredients are launched in tiny particles and can end up dangerously settling in our lungs. If you use this type of sun screen be very careful when and where you spray it.

Make it Broad: Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that will protect you from both the UVA and UVB rays.

Choose a mineral based sunscreen: One of the best choices when protecting your skin is to go with a mineral sunscreen. Zinc is one of the most common mineral sunscreens and relatively safe for your skin.

No matter how safe you stay in the sun, it is still a good idea to check in with your dermatologist on a regular basis. If you have any suspicious sun spots or abnormal moles, get in right away. Now go (safely) enjoy the sunshine.

Emily Countryman is a board certified health coach and owner of Ideal Wellness at 2639 172nd St. NE Suite 104 in Smokey Point/Marysville She can be reached online at


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